When you were a kid, did you ever lose your parents among the numerous, tall, and relatively identical adults in the aisles of the grocery store? Well, when Antarctic fur seal pups lose their mothers in breeding colonies populated by several hundred other seals, they listen for her vocal pitch.
According to a news release, researchers from the University of Paris-Sud found that these pups can identify their mother's vocal pitch from great distances, and they use other components of her vocal signature when they are closer. Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Since these seals breed in dense colonies on shore and often venture off on foraging trips at sea during the four ]-month lactation period, this vocal recognition is important for the pups' survival. The researchers also noted that the seals use their sense of smell to confirm they have found each other.
To better understand seals' individual vocal signatures and how they are detected by pups, researcher Thierry Aubin from the University of Paris-Sud and colleagues conducted playback experiments on roughly 30 wild pups at the Kerguelen Archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean. To do this, they used synthetic signals and tape recordings at different distances.
They were able to conclude that the pups use a two-step identification process, listening for both sound amplitude and frequency modulations in their mother's voice. This means that the pups first identify the frequency in their mother's voice from farther away, and then identify other components as their mother gets closer. The researchers noted that this is most likely a quality that the Antarctic fur seals have adapted due to the importance of that age-old grocery-store pursuit: finding their mom.
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